A DYING LAKE NAIVASHA
Since 1932, when the then lake Naivasha riparian land owners under the Lake Naivasha Riparian land Owners Association (LNROA), developed a Riparian Land Management Agreement with the colonial government, the lake environment have deteriorated greatly as the ‘owners’ developed a false sense of absolute ownership of their land, riparian land, the lake and all that there is in it.
The papyrus fridge that once acted as a ‘kidney’ to the lake sieving the impurities have been cleared to pave way for horticultural farming and high class hotels, water abstraction to the farms is on its record high, pollution from the riparian farmers is worrying while the habitats for the famous king fisher, various fish species, 600 plus bird species and the hippopotamus among other living things have been threatened. More so, the ‘accidentally introduced’ water hyacinth (eichorrnia crissipes) and the carp fish are causing havoc on other species as well as threatening the existence of the lake and the people that depend on it.
Lake Naivasha was the first lake in Kenya to be designated as a Ramsar site in 1995 after Kenya became a contracting party to the convention.
The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971) is an intergovernmental treaty whose mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”
However, due to severe degradation, pollution, human rights violations taking place, the lake has been listed in Montreaux record of endangered sites. This indicates that the lake is losing its international credibility hence its being watched by the whole world. Mind you, the lake basin produces almost 10% of the worlds cut roses and supports over 15% of the countries economy.
Countless organisations have come to Naivasha to rescue the situation but have been infiltrated by politics, local ‘tycoons’ corruption, misguided approach from local groups among others all in the name of covering the mess being done to the lake by a few selfish people who wants quick economic gains at the expense of the locals both now and in the future. Not forgetting the damage being experienced by the voiceless lives that are threatened of animals, fish, birds, insects and others.
Unlike in many of the countries lakes, where policies have been set and enacted to manage them, Lake Naivasha does not enjoy any specific law that governs or that regulate its use. Therefore, when the other statutory laws like the EMCA 1999 Act, Water Act, Land Act, Agriculture policies etc are flouted, as it usually happens, the lake suffers and at the end the country, its people and the ecosystem will degrade if not collapse.
However, during the parliamentary select committee meeting on Environment and Agriculture on 10th July 2008, it was reported that some people had mysteriously lost their lives in the fight for the conservation and public access to the Lake.
In a workshop organised by the Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) similar sentiments were repeated but it become clear that the locals have had enough and it is time to bring change to the way things are done in the conservation of the lake and the catchment.
Under the auspice of Lake Naivasha Stakeholders Coalition (LANESCO), Riparian land cultivation, construction of residents and dump sites on riparian land, papyrus destruction to expand hotels, sewage waste deposits to the lake, siltation, denied public access, agricultural chemical dumping and water abstraction were the major threats reported not forgetting the flourishing water hyacinth and the water fern (salvinia molesta) that are enjoying the fruits of pollution and eutrophication.
Sadly, research has shown that the lake will either be dry or will be a large swamp in less than 10 years if the current trend continues. Currently the average depth of the lake stands at 4 meters, which is four meters less the depth of the lake when it was being designated a Ramsar site i.e. 1995. Should we sit back and watch? Some seems not to worry. ‘If I can get a job in the flower farms why worry? I need a job and I don’t care about the lake, I can’t eat the lake either’ said one person in a personal talk. Nevertheless, majority of the enlightened people are in agony of loosing the only fresh water lake in the region.
According to the Ramsar convention, ‘Local and indigenous people’s involvement in the management of wetlands is beneficial for two principal reasons. The first is that without it, the long-term sustainability of many wetland ecosystems would be in jeopardy. The second is that local and indigenous people benefit from the sustainable use of wetland resources for livelihoods, recreation, and socio-cultural or spiritual reasons.’
Experience gained through working with communities gives an important reason for ANAW-LANESCO to build on indigenous principles of organization that is, to be effective, people must own and enforce its own rules defining membership criteria, the allocation of responsibilities, contributions and benefits, and the mechanisms for ensuring accountability and resolving conflicts. If these rules are dictated from outside, people do not feel obliged to follow them, free riding becomes common, conflicts escalate, and the group becomes ineffective.
These things have become a common phenomenon in this area the last conflict being the unconsultative, dictatorial Lake Naivasha Management Plan developed by one of the groups claiming to be the custodians of the lake. The plan was declared null and void by the law courts in favor of the communities as it lacked in its content the local peoples interests and went beyond to control the Catchment people and they were never aware – contrary to the Ramsar convention. Such a management plan was an imitation of the Lake Victoria treaty – where the water belongs to us (Kenyans) and not to us.
Through out the workshop, speaker after speaker emphasised the need to stand up and face the ‘lion’ before it devours our children and inheritance. It was also clear that without you and me any effort to refuse the over exploitation of the resource will be met with an iron fist by the rich riparian owners white and black hence the need to create synergy and not get moved by personal gains, that remains for a very short time.
With a few polluting investors having sold their property and disappeared to other countries in the recent past, it is now upon us to realize that investors will come and go, they will pollute, cripple the ecosystems resilience but leave the mess to us Kenyans to care for latter. What will remain of the Lake Naivasha? and of the town?
A simple yet bitter answer will be a ghost town and an ecological disaster is now welcome!?.
A house is built brick by brick, let us not build a ghost Naivasha town in ten years from now. Let us not wait for the ecological disaster that is roaming. Let us conserve. Let us join hands. A policy and a comprehensive participatory developed management plan defining every ones role and enacted by the government is all we need. For this to be made possible, we need you.
We need the Naivasha residents, catchment residents, plains residents all corners from which the lake receives water, all corners from which the people benefits directly or indirectly all who have a stake in the benefits or the losses accruing from the lake to join hands and create the synergy necessary to make change.